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Use of Press Releases in Horsemeat Scandal

The FSAI continually monitors foods on the Irish market to ensure that they are complying with the requirements of food law and are safe. As part of this routine activity a small survey was carried out in 2012 to investigate the authenticity of meat products on the Irish market. As part of this survey, the FSAI examined the presence of DNA from cattle, pigs and horses in Salamis, Beef Meals (e.g. Lasagne) and Beef Burgers. 

Of the 27 beef burger products analysed, all were positive for bovine DNA, 23 (85%) were positive for porcine DNA and 10 (37%) were positive for equine DNA. Most of the burgers positive for porcine DNA were not labelled as containing pork which was found at very low levels and therefore its presence may have been unintentional and due to the processing of different animal species in the same plant. None of the samples positive for equine DNA were labelled as containing horse meat. Of the 10 burger products that tested positive for horse DNA all but one were at low levels. The quantification of the horse DNA in this one burger product gave an estimated amount of 29% horsemeat relative to the beef content of the burger product.

This investigation which originally started out as a national survey, quickly attracted both European and international attention and opened discussions on the complexity of the food chain, traceability and labelling. The spotlight was thrown on all sectors of the food chain including regulatory authorities and policy makers. To ensure stakeholders were updated in a timely manner, the FSAI communicated through a variety of channels, including updating  the FSAI website with the latest news, frequently asked questions, survey results and press releases.

The first press release on this food incident, FSAI Survey Finds Horse DNA in Some Beef Burger Products was released ,on Tuesday, 15 January 2013. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) published the findings of a targeted study which examined the authenticity of a number of beef burger, beef meal and salami products available from retail outlets in Ireland. The study, which tested for the presence of horse and pig DNA, reveals the presence of horse DNA in some beef burger products. The FSAI stated that this raised concerns in relation to the traceability of meat ingredients and products entering the food chain.

The FSAI continued to communicate updates about this food incident. In a press release on 8 February 2013 the FSAI confirmed that that some batches of beef lasagne and spaghetti bolognese’ products tested positive for horse meat. The FSAI advised Irish consumers to check if they had purchased the product and if so, to return it to the point of purchase. They also mentioned in the press release that these withdrawn products would be tested for the presence of phenylbutazone to determine whether there was a food safety risk.

On 4 March 2013, the FSAI published a press release with results of industry tests on beef products, beef ingredients and other ingredients for the presence of horse meat. This was followed up with a press release on 25 March 2013 which showed a second set of results of industry tests. Provide some extra information links that support your press release. The two release gave an overview of the test finding and were accompanied by a document describing the result in tabular form and a short text describing the testing methods used.

For all FSAI press releases on the horse meat investigation click here.

Whats makes these good press releases?

  1. By issuing press releases in a timely manner, the FSAI kept all interested parties updated on developments in real-time.
  2. The FSAI published a chronological list of press releases on their website and these provide useful reference sources.
  3. The FSAI press releases pointed to newsworthy developments in the horsemeat investigation but their website also provided answers to questions, facts and additional information.
  4. The press releases provided a local perspective to a European investigation and put the developments into context for the Irish community (i.e. the target audience).
  5. The FSAI communicated about this investigation through a variety of social media channels including Facebook. It is an excellent example of an organisation having built an effective profile on Facebook during 'peace time', using it to communicate during a food incident.